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Historical Parliamentary Timeline

King John agreed to Magna Carta which stated the right of the barons to consult with and advise the king in his Great Council.

Earliest use of the term Parliament, referring to the Great Council.

Sheriffs were instructed to send elected representatives of the counties (knights of the shire) to consult with the king on taxation.

At a Parliament at Oxford, the nobles drafted the “Provisions of Oxford” which calls for regular Parliaments with representatives from the counties.

Simon de Montfort, in rebellion against Henry III, summoned a Parliament which included for the first time representatives of both the counties and towns.

The Clerk of the Parliaments began to compile the Rolls of Parliament, the records of proceedings, particularly the petitions and acts passed.

Model Parliament was made up of nobles and bishops, and two representatives for each county and for each town – the model for future Parliaments.

From this date representatives of the counties (knights of the shire) and of the towns (burgesses) were always summoned together to Parliament.

Knights of the shire and burgesses met together and were called the Commons.

The Commons met separately from the Upper House for the first time.

The Commons began to meet in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey.

A statute established that Parliament must approve of all taxation.

In the Good Parliament the Commons, led for the first time by an elected Speaker, prosecuted, or impeached, before the lords some of the king’s advisors.

The Commons was moved from Chapter House of Westminster Abbey to its Refectory.

Parliament deposed Richard II and Henry IV’s reign started.

During the reign of Henry IV the Commons claimed the right to grant taxation (supply) only after their complaints had been addressed (redress of grievances)

The Commons successfully asserted its right that it should originate all new taxes in its own House

Statute insisted that burgesses should reside in the borough for which they are elected. Over the following years, this provision was almost completely ignored

Henry V acknowledged that the approval and consultation of both Houses was necessary to make new laws

Statute limited the right to vote in county elections to those owning freehold property worth 40 shillings a year

The Clerk of the Parliaments was no longer a Chancery official and began to keep the acts passed in Parliament (the Original Acts) in Parliament’s own archives

The Clerk of the Parliaments started keeping records of proceedings in the House of Lords – the Lords Journal

Henry VIII, the Tudor King, moved the royal family out of the Palace of Westminster after a fire, and left it to the use of Parliament and some government offices

Speaker of the Commons Sir Thomas More made the first known request for freedom of speech in Parliament

The Reformation Parliament passed legislation touching on every aspect of people’s lives and made King-in-Parliament the sovereign lawmaker in the realm

A statute joined Wales to English administration and allowed its counties and boroughs to return members to Parliament

Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries and the abbots and priors could no longer sit in the House of Lords, making the Lords Temporal the majority there

Edward VI, Henry’s son, handed St Stephen’s Chapel over to the Commons for their use

The Clerk of the Commons started keeping records of proceedings – the Commons Journal

Peter Wentworth made a speech in the Commons arguing for freedom of speech in Parliament, for which he was punished and committed to the Tower of London

James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England, the first King of the Stuart dynasty

Gunpowder Plot, in which Catholics angered by their continued persecution were thwarted in their plan to blow up Parliament on its opening day

James I himself tore the ‘Protestation’ against limits he had placed on the Commons’ freedom of speech out of the Commons Journal

James I died and was succeeded by his son Charles I. In June Parliament granted the new king customs duties (tonnage and poundage) for one year only, instead of for life

Charles I levied a Forced Loan, without parliamentary approval, to raise money for war and imprisoned without trial many of those who refused to pay.

Charles I assented to the Commons’ Petition of Right, which condemned extra-parliamentary taxation and arbitrary imprisonment, but it was not enrolled properly as a statute.

The Speaker of the Commons was physically prevented, by three Members in the Commons, from adjourning the House until resolutions were passed against the king’s policies. Parliament was dissolved.

Exchequer judges confirmed the King’s prerogative right to levy knighthood fees on landowners worth £40 a year or more.

Ship money contributions were demanded by the King for the first time from all counties, not just those on the coast. At the same time forest courts were revived to raise money by forest fines.

Scottish Presbyterians, Covenanters, revolted against Charles I’s religious innovations and started the first Bishops’ War against England.

Charles I, needing money for the Bishops’ War, summoned Parliament, which met for less than a month and is known as the Short Parliament.

October 1640
English troops were defeated in the second Bishops’ War. The Treaty of Ripon demanded that Charles I pay Covenanter troops £850 a day while they remained in England.

November 1640
Charles I, desperate for money, summoned Parliament again – the Long Parliament.

November 1640
The Long Parliament was convened and attacked measures and people associated with Personal Rule.

December 1640
The “Root and Branch” Petition calling for the abolition of bishops from the Church of England and its reform “root and branch” was presented to Parliament.

The Earl of Strafford was attainted and executed (May), and Acts were passed ensuring continuation of Parliament and declaring non-parliamentary taxation illegal (May-August).

November 1641
The Grand Remonstrance against Charles I’s activities passed the Commons, barely, and was not even sent to the Lords, before being rejected by the King.

January 1642
Charles I entered the Commons chamber to arrest five Members of the House, but they had already fled.

March 1642
The Lords and Commons passed the Militia Ordinance, which did not receive the assent of King, establishing parliamentary control over county militias.

August 1642
Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham, formally starting the English Civil War in February.

Parliament passed New Model Ordinance, establishing the New Model Army which would fight for Parliament against the King.

Charles I surrendered, ending the first Civil War.

The Leveller tract, The Agreement of the People, was published. Its proposals for universal suffrage (for men) and more equal representation were debated at Putney Debates.

Pride’s Purge, when Army leaders excluded MPs thought to be sympathetic to Charles I from Parliament; the remaining MPs were known as the Rump Parliament.

Charles I was executed. The Commons abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords and declared England a Commonwealth.

Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament (April), called the Nominated Assembly (July) and by the Instrument of Government was made Lord Protector (December).

Cromwell agreed to the Humble Petition and Advice but refused to be made King.

Oliver Cromwell died, and was succeeded by his son Richard Cromwell.

Richard Cromwell was deposed, and political anarchy ensued.

Charles II, son of Charles I in exile in France, was restored as King and the Lords were summoned to Parliament again.

The Cavalier Parliament first met and sat until January 1679: The bishops sat again in the Lords and the Act of Uniformity enforced conformity to the English Church.

Charles II agreed in the secret treaty of Dover to convert to Catholicism in exchange for French subsidies.

Parliament passed a Test Act to prevent Catholics from holding office, by which the successor to the throne, James, Duke of York, had to resign.

Four peers were imprisoned by the House of Lords for claiming that Parliament was automatically dissolved because it had not met for over a year.

Parliament passed a Test Act to prevent Catholics from sitting in Parliament.

The first Exclusion Parliament met: the Commons drafted a Bill to exclude the Duke of York from the succession.

The second Exclusion Parliament met: the Exclusion Bill was defeated in the Lords.

The third Exclusion Parliament met at Oxford for only a week, the last time Parliament met outside Westminster.

The “Tory reaction”, saw purges, prosecutions, and executions of prominent Exclusionists, or Whigs, as they were now called.

Charles II died in February and James II’s Parliament first met in May, but after November was continuously prorogued until it was dissolved in July 1687.

Godden v Hales allowed James II to dispense individuals from Test Acts. The bishop of London was suspended from his office for not taking action against an anti-Catholic preacher.

James II issued his Declaration of Indulgence for Nonconformists and sent agents to find potential MPs who would vote for repeal of the Test Acts.

June 1688
The “Seven Bishops” prosecuted by James II for refusing to announce the Declaration of Indulgence in their churches were acquitted. The “Immortal Seven” sent their invitation to William of Orange to invade England after the birth of James II’s son.

Nov.-Dec. 1688
The “Glorious Revolution” – William of Orange invaded England and James II fled to France. A Convention was summoned to decide the political settlement.

The Convention Parliament voted that James II had ‘abdicated’ and that William and Mary should be offered the Crown (February). The House of Commons read the Declaration of Rights to William and Mary, which they later enacted as statute, the Bill of Rights (December). Parliament declared war on France (the Nine Years’ War) (May).

Parliament passed an Act establishing a Commons’ Commission of Public Accounts to oversee the Crown’s use of the revenue.

The Bank of England was founded by parliamentary statute (April). The Triennial Act providing for parliamentary elections every three years was passed (November). Queen Mary died and William III became sole ruler (December)

Revelations of a plot to assassinate William III led to the drafting of an oath of loyalty to the King, rejected by many Tory MPs and peers (Lords).

The Treaty of Ryswyck ended the Nine Years’ War.

James II died and Louis XIV recognised his son as James III (the “Old Pretender”) as rightful king of England and Scotland (September), prompting Parliament to legislate for an oath requiring a public abjuration of the Stuarts’ claim to the throne.

William III died (March), succeeded by Queen Anne, who almost immediately declared a renewed war against France (the War of the Spanish Succession).

The Act of Union between Scotland and England was ratified. The new British Parliament soon took in its first Scottish Members.

Queen Anne refused to assent to the Scottish Militia Bill, the last time the royal veto was used.

The Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession.

Queen Anne died and was succeeded by George I of Hanover by the Act of Settlement.

The Bribery Act was passed to address corruption in elections

The Representation of the People Act (the first ‘Reform Act’) extended the vote to men meeting property qualifications, reduced ‘rotten boroughs’ and redistributed Parliamentary seats to better represent urban areas

The Representation of the People Act (the second ‘Reform Act’) extended the vote to urban working men meeting property qualification

The Ballot Act introduced the secret ballot at elections

The Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act 1883 effectively ended serious corruption in British elections

The Representation of the People Act (the third ‘Reform Act’) addressed imbalances between men’s votes in boroughs and counties

The Redistribution Act saw boundaries redrawn to produce equal electoral districts. Single member seats become the norm

The Appellate Jurisdiction Act created full-time professional judges (The Law Lords)

The Parliament Act removed the House of Lords’ right to refuse a Bill passed in the Commons – except Bills that proposed to extend the life of Parliament.

Representation of the People’s Act

Equal Franchise Act

The Parliament Act reduced the Lords’ ability to delay a Bill passed in the Commons from two years to one year.

The Life Peerages Act permitted creation of peerages for life to persons of either sex, with no limit on numbers. The first woman life Peer – Baroness Wootton of Abinger – is created.